From [HERE] The Drug Policy Alliance, a leading advocacy group, released a report Tuesday calling for an end to criminal penalties for drug use and possession. Once considered a radical approach, the position in the DPA report has already won the endorsement of more than 30 organizations and key stakeholders. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Latino Justice PRLDEF, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and various others have backed the report’s call for decriminalization, a policy that essentially removes the threat of arrest or criminal penalties in cases of simple possession.
Drug decriminalization is the elimination of criminal penalties for drug use and possession, as well as the elimination of criminal penalties for the possession of equipment used for the purpose of introducing drugs into the human body, such as syringes.
The criminalization of drug possession is a major driver of mass incarceration and mass criminalization in the United States. Each year, U.S. law enforcement makes more than 1.5 million drug arrests — more arrests than for all violent crimes combined. The overwhelming majority — more than 80 percent — are for possession only and involve no violent offense.
On any given night, there are at least 133,000 people behind bars in U.S. prisons and jails for drug possession — and 63,000 of them are held pre-trial. Hundreds of thousands of people also remain under some form of correctional supervision (probation, parole, or other post-prison supervision) for drug possession. People convicted of drug possession face a host of additional consequences, including the loss of federal financial aid, eviction from public housing, disqualification from a wide range of occupational licenses, loss of the right to vote, and denial of public assistance. [MORE]
The widespread support for decriminalization comes at a crucial time, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions call for ramping up the war on drugs in the face of the nation’s growing opioid epidemic.
But despite the Trump administration’s shift toward more punative policies, Jag Davies, DPA’s communications director, said most Americans don’t realize how close to decriminalization many state policies already are.
“The US is closer to decriminalizing drugs than most people think, even in a red state like South Carolina,” he said on a conference call with reporters, noting that, in terms of public opinion, polls of presidential primary voters last year found that most support ending arrests for drug consumption and possession.
States included in the study were Maine (with 64% percent in favor of ending arrests), New Hampshire (66%), and South Carolina (59%).
“Removing criminal penalties for drug use and possession will increase opportunities for people to get help,” said Emily Kaltenbach, the DPA’s senior director of national criminal justice strategy. “Today, people who need drug treatment or medical assistance may avoid it in order to hide their drug use. If we decriminalize drugs, people can come out of the shadows and get the help they need.”
Extreme Racial Disparities Persist in New York Possession Arrests
The need to remove criminal penalties for cannabis consumption and possession persists in New York City, according to a second DPA report released today. It shows that arrests for marijuana possession under Mayor Bill de Blasio continue to be marked by high racial disparities.
The report found that during the first three years of the De Blasio administration, the NYPD made more than 60,000 criminal arrests for cannabis possession. Nearly 86% of those arrests were of black or Latino individuals. [MORE]